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Brined, smoked range chicken and a Charcuterie Challenge

9 Jan

This morning I decided that the 3 thawed range chickens we were planning on smoking today should sit in a brine overnight. Good planning on my part, eh? A search on the net lead me to this post, and a recipe for a quick brine, perfect for those of us that want something now or at least sometime today. Here is my version:

I mostly followed the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. I added Italian parsley and sage from the raised beds (that made it through last nights temps of around 9 degrees Fahrenheit) then added some of our farm raised dried red pepper in addition to about a cup of Red Guitar (!) Old Vine Tempranillo Garnacha left over from last night.

While on Michael Ruhlman’s site, a cute picture of some red pigs caught my eye. CharcutePalooza? Right on! What a coincidence! Though I did not see any telltale wattles on the pigs, I clicked to find out more.

Interestingly, I had just this past Friday, conversed with a local farmer friend about preserving meats and told him this was my year for learning about how to make Virginia style hams, prosciutto and all other good things porky: smoked preserved and otherwise cured.

I love how things come together in life and the universe gives you a kick start when you really need it. This is all part of my journey here in Tennessee towards learning the old way and in doing so, I plan to document artisan skills that are nearly lost. I believe it’s why I became a farmer in the first place and is a perfect opportunity to stay focused on the goal. Here are the “Ruhls” as posted on the Mrs. Wheelbarrows Kitchen site (see link to site above re: charcutepalooza).

“The Ruhls

* Let’s celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors and presentation.
* Let’s agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
* Let’s write about our experiences. Not just how the charcuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
* Buy a copy of ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing’ by Michael Ruhlman.
* Cook along as often as practical. There’s no obligation.
* Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
* Display the Badge, if you are so inclined;”

I am joining this challenge if only for the pork portion (since that’s what I have) in order to keep things simple. Duck Prosciutto, January’s challenge sounds wonderful, maybe next year? I’ve been hoping for a pond this year in order to raise more fowl. Yet another Mr. Pink Guitar honey do list item… The cool thing about this challenge though, is that anyone who has access to humanely raised meats can participate.

So I am off to purchase the book, please feel free to join me in this challenge, I would love your comments. Oh, and I will keep you posted on how the smoked chicken turned out.

UPDATE: Well, the smoked chicken sat in brine for a few hours and then went into the smoker:

Then we phoned up our West Coast expert smoker friend, Steve, for advice. Here is what we SHOULD have done, and will do so next time. Brine for at least 12 hours, then, and this is critical: RINSE THE BIRD prior to smoking. We only had our chickens in the brine for a few hours and did not rinse them, so, although we sacrificed full tender juiciness, we still got great flavor without too much salt.

The chicken was delicious, even with our errors in planning. I would love to tell you that we sat down to a fabulous meal of smoked chicken, a nice bit of couscous, some healthy winter greens and then complimented the smoky flavor of the chicken with a sweet ginger/plum chutney, but we got it to the kitchen and devoured it with a chopped salad. The bad, blurry picture below shows how horribly IMPATIENT we were to try the chicken. Sorry, the picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The next day, it was served in sandwiches with that beautiful ginger/plum chutney mentioned above – sent to us this summer by more good friends on the West Coast. We feel lucky to get to eat such wonderful food and it is even more satisfying to know that we raised those chickens here. We also really appreciate all of the good help and flavors sent from so far away!

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Porky research and the Red Wattle Hog

6 Jan

When I started growing vegetables I wanted things I couldn’t get easily at the store. I wanted weird stuff that no one had ever seen and to make dishes nobody else had ever tasted. I’ll admit it, I’m a food adventurer, a trait encouraged and nurtured while only a 10 year old child on sabbatical with my family as we traversed around the world. We lived in Japan and Sweden during that journey for six months each and it was immersion into these cultures, and others along the way that opened my eyes to so many wonderful choices in food.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are therefore an obvious component in my garden. So too, are heritage farm animals, which brings us to the elusive and extraordinary Red Wattle Hog or Pig, depending. And really, just what is the difference between a hog and a pig? Just like heirloom plants, heritage animals must be consumed in order to continue on.

If there is no added benefit in the form of taste, better flavor, hardiness, regional adaptability, or an incredibly unique finished product, they will not survive our industrialized world. And if you have read this far, please check out this post a story regarding Adam and Eve, two 8 week old Red Wattles that traveled from Kansas to live in the Napa Valley. Especially thought provoking, are the comments in this link, there are excellent rhetorical questions posed and insights revealed.

Luckily, the Red Wattle population is increasing and most Red Wattle farmers are passionate about their cause. Although touted as a trendy foodie item for several years (yet again, another Adam and Eve reference), I hope that more people have the opportunity to taste heritage meat and learn about these animals with an eye towards preservation, animal welfare and excellent flavor. To know that meat raised the way it is supposed to be raised has better flavor and that more small farmers are supported in doing so, is a win, win situation for all local communities.

Raising Red Wattle Hogs is an honor. We have Yorkshire/Landrace/Hampshire cross gilts alongside the Red Wattles and the Red Wattles appear to be more primitive and old-fashioned. They are larger, grow faster, forage better, hold up to the weather and thrive in the woodlot and pasture. The Red Wattles have been referred to as dinosaurs and, I’ll admit, they do have a primordial look to them. When surprised or scared, they bark like a dog and hop around in circles, it’s a sound from the past, eerily prehistoric and oddly appropriate for their looks.

The white pig on the right is about 300 pounds - for perspective

Where did they come from? I wonder if they are a genetic remnant from our ancient past, a treasure that has been rediscovered and/or a delicious unsolvable mystery. Regardless, we are lucky to have them.

And by the way, what ever happened to the cute little piglets named Adam and Eve that got to go live in the Napa Valley?

So, with fingers crossed while knocking on wood (ow!), If all goes well, we should have our own farm raised Red Wattle piglets in about 4 months! If you are interested in a piglet of your own to raise, or a whole or half, please contact us at pjmatthews7750@gmail.com

Thanksgiving Dinner – and a contract negotiation

24 Nov

Whoa! That’s not turkey!

No, that’s two sides of pork ribs, smoked over a tray of pineapple juice with a brown-sugar spice rub. Farm raised pork. As in, raised here pork – on farm, yes! Historic for us because this was our first taste of pinkguitarfarm pork, over a year in the making (we’ve been patient). Was it delicious? Well, I, the author and farmer, cannot tell you if this mouth watering picture translated into a savory, sticky, spicy – gnaw on the bone(s) food revelation. It got excellent reviews, though.

Why? Because while I was making Pecan Pie, 5 individuals (3 under the age of 12) DEMOLISHED this entire appetizer dish. Nay, I can’t even call it a dish, these ribs DID NOT MAKE IT TO THE KITCHEN FOR PLATING. No utensils, napkins or dinnerware were utilized in the deconstruction of my special first course: pork ribs a la pinkguitarfarm!

I suppose I was not too upset because the main course featured fresh roasted hams (same rub) served with a Champagne cranberry reduction, wilted Swiss chard with pinenuts, caramelized sweet potatoes and Caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons. Needless to say, I did not go hungry and more importantly I am very thankful for the wonderful bounty our farm provided. As for the ribs….there will be more in the future.

So, what about the contract negotiation?

Earlier in the day I ran across our farm turkey, Brad. He engaged me in a conversation regarding his status on the farm – while hiding under the truck:

Me: “Brad, it’s Thanksgiving! No worries, dude! I went to bat for you; your status here is good. You are an icon, our mascot – sort of. You have style, presence, pizazz! If you weren’t here, the silence would be deafening! We think everyone should have a farm turkey, really!”

So then he handed me a list of demands:
1. Girlfriends – a whole gaggle of them.
2. My own food bowl. I’m done sharing with those stinkin’ chickens.
3. That blond kid, on a permanent time-out: in the house.
4. I ride shotgun in the truck, no more sitting in the bed.

I had to give the fowl a long somewhat respectful once-over. He’s got wattles, man!

Me: “Brad (with a patient voice) gaggles are for geese. You want turkey hens? Done. Your own food dish? Done. Now, I know you don’t like Jack, but I cannot keep him in the house, he helps with chores. Heyyy….are you two working together now, so he can get out of doing the chores? Okay, no on Jack. And no on the truck! Trust me, you don’t want to ride with me when I take the kids to school or run errands, that’s just weird. No, no, no! And stop trying to hide in the bed as we drive off to school in the morning, you’ve been making us tardy and the kids are blaming it on me.”

I must say, Brad caught me a bit off guard, but I was going to get him some turkey hens anyway. Next time, I’ll have my own demands ready so we can really negotiate, like: quit sleeping on my car, no harassing the children or the chickens and no gobbling while I’m outside on my cell phone, it freaks people out.

That Brad, he’s a tough nut…and people think turkeys are stupid?

Local Honey

30 Oct

Contact: Ben & Emmaline Seaborn (931) 623-8112.

Ben and Emmaline also sell their amazing raw, all natural honey at the Fairview Farmers Market in Fairview, TN., at the Recreation Center parking lot on most Saturday mornings during the regular season.

Mozzarella with farm-fresh cow’s milk…finally!

22 Oct

Since on-farm goat cheese/chevre is a hope and dream for another day, I have been thinking about finding a source for local milk, any milk frankly, (goat,cow,sheep) raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and not ultrapasteurized. Pasteurized versus raw milk is a topic I’m not going to discuss right now, however, when milk is superheated, i.e. ULTRApasteurized thus denaturing the proteins, cheese is very difficult if not impossible to make. Last weekend, I ran into a nice lady who makes her own butter. Conversations such as these remind me of how much I love dairy and how expensive it is, and also, how difficult it is to find a local natural source. Unless, of course it finds you…

After the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meeting last night at our kids’ elementary school, I happened to talk to a parent about buying beef from his farm. I am interested in a half a cow for the freezer. He mentioned that they sell milk too. YIPPIE! I went over to his farm this morning and picked up some precious cargo.

2 gallons of fresh (milked within the last 12 hours, fresh) whole milk – located only about 3 miles away, I had to pinch myself. I told him that I planned on being a very good customer since my husband is an excellent cheese maker (well, the only one I know of, really) and I can’t wait to give the piglets some whey. Piglets fed whey eventually make very tasty pork, or so I’m told!

So out comes the “Home Cheese Making” book:

Which was a little dusty, and I spent this morning dreaming of “Mozzarella with farm-fresh cow’s milk”, Panir, an Indian cheese, Queso Blanco, “Whey Ricotta” (piglets are gonna have to share on this one) and Gouda. How about Caraway Swiss? Mascarpone? Lemon Cheese and Gorgonzola? I realize I’ll have to work up to Parmesan.

The other worlds that are opening up now to my culinary delight are buttermilk, sour cream, kefir, creme fraiche, yogurt, butter and ghee. It is all enough to make one giddy…

If you are interested in checking out the site where I purchased my cheese making book and got my initial “Cheesemaking kit”, click here. Check with your local farmers or ask around at your farmers market to locate a source for farm fresh milk – it’s worth it!

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